One man dove into America’s frustrating options for health coverage, and (barely) survived to tell the tale
One day back in 2006, my toddler son put a rock up his nose. It was a small rock, and a small nose, and a short trip to the emergency room, where a tall, goofy doctor sucked out the rock with a hose while Elijah screamed like he was dying. But for me, the real pain came later. I was self-employed, and my wife taught college as an adjunct, so we had to pay for health insurance out of our own pocket. Because the insurance company decided my boy’s extraction was “surgery,” and we each had our own surgery deductible, it ended up costing us $600—which was a lot. Not long after, I wrote an article for the first issue of GOOD lamenting how health care for the average middle-class family was a luxury, not a right.
But a year later, I actually hit the luxury jackpot. My memoir Alternadad tapped into a minor zeitgeist about “hipster parenting,” and also told a universal story about becoming a first-time father. The success of the book led to blogs and articles, then to a film option with a major movie studio, where they paid me to write a screenplay. Not long after, I landed a sitcom deal, also based on Alternadad, which qualified me for membership to the Writers Guild of America. The union made sure I had basically free health care. The cost was $600 for the entire year to cover my little family. What I was earning in television money was unprecedented—particularly when compared to what I was used to as an author—but in Hollywood terms, my income was comparatively tiny. The union shaved less than two percent off of what I earned, plus quarterly dues. Those union dues were entered into a collective pool, which also included the WGA fees of mega-successful scribes like Aaron Sorkin, Shonda Rhimes, and Seth MacFarlane, among many others. Matthew Weiner indirectly paid for my wife’s thyroid treatment and my sports-medicine rehab. It was screenwriter socialism. This health insurance was the gold standard.